Hugh Hefner and Playboy

Started by Chris L, Sep 27, 2017, 09:25 pm

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Chris L

Hugh Hefner died September 27, 2017. Forgive me if I find it difficult to talk about him. His image didn't survive the age of feminism intact, yet while I agree with the general principles of feminism, I've never felt that Hefner was all that opposed to them. In the early 1960s, when I first began reading issues of Playboy that I'd found in a friend's basement (and later issues that my mother bought for me because she didn't want me to pick this stuff up on the street), he was an outspoken proponent of sexual freedom and loved printing photos of women in the nude, yet I never felt that he was an opponent of women's rights.

To the contrary, he always seemed to me to be a proponent of everyone's rights. He wrote lengthy, amphetamine-fueled essays on personal freedom and bent my political bias to the left to the extent that my mother hadn't already bent it. He believed in sexual freedom, but he also believed in free speech. He taught me that opposition to sexual rights and gay rights was a part of the human condition that we could no longer tolerate and that the First Amendment was the greatest of all rights that Americans possessed.

Never mind what else you've heard about Hef. He lived a hedonistic life. I would have too, if I'd had his billions. I genuinely believe that he was a kind man and a committed liberal, who was appalled that he came to be seen as an enemy of women's rights.

The 60s and 70s were a time of sexual revolution, which began to die in the age of AIDS. Hef understood that and there was nothing he could have done to stop it. Amy and I spent this evening watching Ken Burns' The Vietnam War, which is an emotionally wrenching experience, but Hef's death is an emotionally wrenching experience as well.

He and my mother taught me to be the liberal that I am. What more could I ask of any other human being?
But us, old friend,
What's to discuss, old friend?

MartinG

Your mother was clearly a very enlightened and pragmatic woman Chris. You're a credit to her.
Morals tomorrow

EricMontreal37

I don't deny anything you say.  (And, obviously, I didn't live during his peak years).  That said, I think his contribution to human rights in the US is exaggerated--several (!) people on facebook have posted that without him we wouldn't have had civil *or* gay rights.  Umm???  His reaction towards AIDS in the 80s was to be non-vocal, when he still had an important voice (he DID speak out against the government for ignoring the AIDS crises--some ten years after the fact).  Similarly when gay marriage became a focus a few years back, he supported it--but he never was at the vanguard of supporting it.

He's not a villain.  But I don't think anything he did or even his attitudes were particularly heroic.  That said, if he helped teach you to be liberal, than he deserves a lot of my thanks.

Chris L

Quote from: EricMontreal37 on Sep 29, 2017, 08:22 pmI don't deny anything you say.  (And, obviously, I didn't live during his peak years).  That said, I think his contribution to human rights in the US is exaggerated--several (!) people on facebook have posted that without him we wouldn't have had civil *or* gay rights.  Umm???  His reaction towards AIDS in the 80s was to be non-vocal, when he still had an important voice (he DID speak out against the government for ignoring the AIDS crises--some ten years after the fact).  Similarly when gay marriage became a focus a few years back, he supported it--but he never was at the vanguard of supporting it.

He's not a villain.  But I don't think anything he did or even his attitudes were particularly heroic.  That said, if he helped teach you to be liberal, than he deserves a lot of my thanks.
Thanks, Eric. That's pretty much my point. I picked up the magazine because of the pictures, but wound up with a love of free speech and a sense of human empathy. I learned to appreciate great contemporary writers. And I came to believe in sexual freedom, including gay rights (though Playboy's cartoons would sometimes use gay stereotypes for cheap laughs, which I think was an error in judgment on Hefner's part).

No, I'm not sure Hefner was a hero. And while he clearly supported the civil rights movement, it would have gone on without him. But I still think that despite his blind spots concerning feminism, Hefner's influence on me was far more positive than negative.
But us, old friend,
What's to discuss, old friend?

EricMontreal37

I think his influence over all was much more positive than negative.  I do think that, like with a number of public figures, over the decades he became a caricature of himself, and that hasn't helped matters (and in his case, I don't think he would blame anyone but himself.)  But Playboy magazine--during the years, in particular when he was in charge, published a lot of damn good writing (including some articles on gay rights).  I think I appreciate him more for that aspect (as I think you do too) than for the Playboy Bunny image of himself that he helped to created.  People have been calling him a "pimp"--I think that's at the least too simplistic.  But it's hard reading about some of the experiences in the Playboy compound with him and not seeing it as some bizarre Caligula-ish palace with everything but a horse...

Chris L

Quote from: EricMontreal37 on Sep 29, 2017, 09:33 pmI think his influence over all was much more positive than negative.  I do think that, like with a number of public figures, over the decades he became a caricature of himself, and that hasn't helped matters (and in his case, I don't think he would blame anyone but himself.)  But Playboy magazine--during the years, in particular when he was in charge, published a lot of damn good writing (including some articles on gay rights).  I think I appreciate him more for that aspect (as I think you do too) than for the Playboy Bunny image of himself that he helped to created.  People have been calling him a "pimp"--I think that's at the least too simplistic.  But it's hard reading about some of the experiences in the Playboy compound with him and not seeing it as some bizarre Caligula-ish palace with everything but a horse...
I agree with everything you've said. Hefner became a pathetic stereotype in his later years, an old man who would have sex with dozens of Playmates in an evening using Viagra to perpetuate his sexual youth. Indeed, it was a little Caligula-like, though without the cruelty. A lot of the women he featured in his magazines and on his reality show found careers in entertainment they never could have had if they'd stayed in their hometowns and a lot of them, like Kendra Wilkerson (Wilkinson?), seem genuinely grateful for the opportunities he afforded them.

In recent decades he seemed to run against the tide of history, especially in regard to feminism, but he did a great deal to make this country less uptight about sex, including gay sex. All in all, I think it was better that we had him on this planet, especially when he was young, energetic and running a magazine that introduced young people to intellectual and literary ideas they might otherwise have missed out on if he hadn't sugarcoated his magazine with those nudes.

Some friends and I (male and female) went to the Playboy club in Baltimore in 1974. You could see that era already sliding into oblivion with the sad Borscht-Belt comic in the upstairs nightclub and the Bunny-waitresses had already come to seem anachronistic. But in the 50s and 60s, the magazine was a force to be reckoned with.

BTW,@EricMontreal37, it's great to see you here and I hope to see you here more. We're having trouble convincing people to come here as a supplement to Facebook and I can't say we're being terribly successful. But you were one of the great voices on the old FTC and I hope you find the Studio Ghibli thread I planted for you in the movies section. ;)
But us, old friend,
What's to discuss, old friend?